Tuesday, May 31, 2011

living out a colloquialism

There is something special about living out a colloquialism: which is exactly what I was doing. Barefoot in the potato patch sounded like a phrases said a million times to imply something, but I wasn't exact;y sure what? Going Six ways to Sunday day means a rushing effort, Lifting yourself up by your bootstraps means a self-imposed work ethic. So what did being barefoot in the potato patch mean?

It meant it was damn hot outside.

87 degrees and muggy as all get out. I had been unshod for most of the morning, liking the better grip and cool dirt under my hot feet. The bare feet gave me balance, and stepping over mounds and seed potatoes I even felt a little primal. It's a good thing, too, for a corporate employee to be sweat-stained and shoeless in brown earth as often as possible.

After five years of homesteading I still don't have a rototiler, so all sod is broken with a single hoe. I raise it up and then slam it down into the grass and lift up the earth's pretty covering of green to search for earthworm castings and dark earth. I hoe deep enough to bury each spud (or half of a spud, depending on how many eyes it had) into a grave and then cover it with dirt. They will be covered with compost and more mulch as the summer continues. I'm thinking about my summer commitment to this small backyard patch and wondering if I'm over my head this time. How will I store them all? Can I use the basement or will it be too damp? Should I use the closet under the attic stairs, or will that be too warm by the woodstove? After a while all these considerations got folded into the rows as well. Soon it was just the heat, my rhythm, and the voice of Barbara Kingsolver reading Prodigal Summer over my headphones.

When the first 65 were in the ground, I was beat, just plain whooped. I went inside to replenish some fluids and instead of walking back out to my hoe and sack I grabbed my drug-store spin reel and rod and headed for the pond. Sunday night I watched the Daughton boys reel in bass after bass from my little pond and I wanted to land one of those bigguns myself. So I headed down there with my twenty-dollar tackle and a package fo worms from Stewarts. The irony that I'm an Orvis employee was not lost. But when a girl spends the day working for her food, she doesn't want to hunt via dry-fly airstrike. She wants to trick some fish with live bait.

last night I realized something wonderful. Fishing is the one thing I need no distraction from. Everything else I do alongside something else. I hoe with headphones. I surf the net while watching a movie. I read in the bathroom...but fishing. I am 100% there. Hours flew by and I caught panfish and smiled. No bass yet. Just a girl in her straw hat with dirty feet, chucking worms and praying the snapping turtle isn't hungry for my lowest digits.

I came back to the farm an hour or so later. I had the guilt as heavy as a sack of seed potatoes calling me home. I hoped to plant 65 more, but gave up after 20 to return to the pond. Between the heat and effort, 85 poatoes was nothing to be ashamed of, and that's not counting the ten already in the raised bed with bushes high as my waist. One woman can get through a winter on 400 pounds of potatoes, for sure. So I fished until dark, still only hooking sun fish, and then eventually walking up the road to the house. I was so tired from the sun, planting, and angling I felt like I had been slipped cat tranqs. Just totally used up by that happy day.

I was sound asleep before dark.

20 Comments:

Blogger Gayle said...

You can build a root cellar in a basement. Google it.

May 31, 2011 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger judy said...

Pan fish-I love em.When we were small my dad took us on a excursion to Pug lake.My dad and just some of my brothers and sisters [ maybe 7 of us ] [ out of 14 ] all got in the row boat that we could barely fit in and go down the back ally way,so to speak,it was a creek. We would have to get out of the boat to lift it over logs and stuff. But we caught our limit I tell you that. It started to rain on the way home so rowing close to shore, which is what dad always did with all of in the boat,and panning out rain water with a coffee can so as to not drown.

May 31, 2011 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Natalie said...

Barefoot farming!

May 31, 2011 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger jules said...

Prodigal Summer is at the top of my favorite books list.

May 31, 2011 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

You could sell your extra potatoes at the Farmers Market but I wouldn't get too excited until their out of the ground. I tried Green Mountains a couple of years ago. Not the best use of my garden.

May 31, 2011 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Kathy P. said...

Wow. Breaking sod with a hoe. Ow.

There is an easier way.

You don't need a rototiller. Google "sheet mulching" or look up the book "Lasagna Gardening". Another good one is Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich.

I've never tilled my raised beds, just used compost and straw (wish I had the manure supply you have) and I can put my arm into the soil almost up to my elbow. No tilling, no digging.

This fall, get yourself some big sheets of cardboard (I dumpster dive behind an appliance store, with their permission), position it where you want your beds next spring, and heap a bunch of fertilized straw or whatever other biomass you have on top. This will smother the lawn and compost over the fall and winter. You'll be able to plant big stuff (tomatoes, squash, etc.) right into the bed in the spring, or if you top with some finer soil or compost, you'll be able to plant smaller seeds like lettuce.

No till is best for a healthy soil as well. Protects the micro-herds down there.

May 31, 2011 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

That was a good day Jenna and fishing can be the best therapy ever.

May 31, 2011 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

A grub hoe, fork hoe, strawberry hoe, or mattock would be much better than the traditional garden hoe. A rototiller is nice tool but it's pretty much a single use tool (Tractor Supply has one very similar to the original Troy Builts). I use mine maybe twice a year, the rest of the time I use a garden hoe or swivel hoe for planting and weeding. The grub hoe is a good sod buster we use those for wildland fires on the fire dept.

Pack your produce in sawdust over the winter to keep the dampness away.

If your compost pile is working as it should, you should have an endless supply of worms.

Loved the video.

May 31, 2011 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger sheila said...

Cold and damp is great for potato storage. As long as it doesn't flood and stays cold without freezing then you will have potatoes until next spring. Just don't store apples with them because the gases the apples release will make the potatoes go soft and sprout early.

May 31, 2011 at 10:28 PM  
OpenID parkerpages said...

How about turning them into vodka instead? ;)

May 31, 2011 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Victoria Strauser said...

I love this - the imagery - I felt like I was right there, even though I don't know how to fish! I do know that "spent" feeling though. :)

May 31, 2011 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Root Cellaring, by Mike and Nancy Bubel is like the bible on that sort of thing. They'll tell you what you need to know- probably your basement will be fine as long as it doesn't flood, but take a look at their book. Your library might have it. They even tell you how to fertilize root crops so that they store better, and in the meantime it makes them taste better too. Check it out.

Having your own pond to fish in sounds like heaven to me. Lucky you.

June 1, 2011 at 12:36 AM  
OpenID localnourishment.com said...

Jenna, a here's a great blog post on winter potato storage. She even links to a second post with more info. http://matronofhusbandry.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/storing-potatoes/

June 1, 2011 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Dreaming of Jeanie said...

Your day sounds....amazing!! I want to have days like that in my life.

June 1, 2011 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Prodigal Summer read by Kingsolver....My ALL time favorite!

June 1, 2011 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger jim said...

jenna-watch craigs list for a small Mantis tiller-have had all sizes over my lifetime but find this is the one we use the most- great tool-----J

June 1, 2011 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger CJ said...

Jim - I've seen those advertised and never took them to be a serious product. I would be interested to know how they react when they hit a rock (Vermont potatoes as we like to call them)? They look very light weight and without any counter balance to handle the force of striking a rock.

Perhaps I am wrong, they seem like nothing more than a gas powered hoe so I really would be interested to know how they perform in non-made-for-TV gardens?

June 1, 2011 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I have been using a Mantis for 12 years on my 50x20 or so garden. They are quite powerful but easy to handle. If you hit a smallish rock it may get wedged in the tines and stall the tiller. Usually these rocks can be dislodged with a small hammer but it is easy to remove the cotter pin and get them out that way. If it is a large rock, the tiller will bounce which gives you the chance to dig the rock out with a spading fork. For the money, ease of use and reliability the Mantis can't be beat.

June 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger andreakoehler said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 1, 2011 at 11:48 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Try canning some of your potatoes. I usually can at least half my crop, which gives me almost instant real mashed potatoes. The canning process cooks the potatoes through, so just open a jar and heat. Then drain and mash to the desired smoothness (don't forget the butter and cream!). Or leave the chunks intact and add to soup, toss with a vinagrette for salad, etc. Works best with the less starchy varieties, such as Red Bliss. I've had good luck with Yukon Golds, but they do get a bit soft on the edges and leave some slurry at the bottom of the jars.

June 2, 2011 at 12:07 AM  

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